Matt Forte is a Chicago Bears legend at this point.
Sure he's played on some less-than fantastic Bears teams, but he's been a solid contributor, turning out yards and being a reliable, and at times, only offensive weapon the team had at its disposal.
But all good things must come to an end and no where is that more of a reality than in the NFL. It is a business first and foremost and even the best players don't get the storybook ending fans often wish they could see.
After eight season with the Bears, Forte ranks second in franchise rushing yards and receptions. He's been to two Pro-Bowls and set an NFL record for receptions by a running back in a single season.
Forte is a class player and has endeared himself to the fanbase throughout his career with his production and attitude.
For those reasons, many fans were disappointed that as the season wound to a close, the narrative surrounding Forte was that his time in Chicago was over, he would be playing elsewhere next season. The Bears have plenty of young, rising running backs such as Jeremy Langford and Ka'Deem Carey that they don't need Forte and Forte's contract demands would be too rich for the Bears' tastes.
Furthermore, due to his production still being at a high level, other teams will be willing to pay more for his services than the Bears would.
Or would they?
It seems like a simple open and shut case of an older player being left to test the free agent market when his contract expires and his team is ready to move on. However, I am just not sure that is the case.
The league-wide view of running backs is that their useful life cycle ends at age 30. After that point they were in real risk of dropping off of the career cliff, when their skills deteriorate and they fall out of the league.
That part doesn't fit with the idea that Forte is going to be getting huge contract offers from other teams.
I looked over running back contracts over at Spotrac and it would appear to me that RBs that have signed deals at age 29 or older seem to be averaging between $2 and $4 million per year. Here are three of those RBs with multi-year deals, that I feel are comparable to Forte in terms of production both past and current, as well as their per-year average on their current deals.
|Frank Gore||32||$4 mil|
|DeAngelo Williams||32||$2 mil|
|Justin Forsett||30||$3 mil|
Each of these backs signed their deal last offseason; Gore and Forsett for three years and Williams for two. Each of them turned in over 900 rushing yards for their team. Forsett and Williams averaged over four yards per carry.
Gore was the worth of the bunch, averaging just 3.7 yards per carry but he played behind a bad offensive line and with back up QBs much of the season. He still managed to have over 1,200 yards from scrimmage.
So there is a case to be made that over-30 RBs aren't toxic and can have a role on a team. I think if Forte hits the market and sees that teams aren't willing to give him much past 3-years for $12 million, there is a chance he's back in Chicago.
The other factor is that Chicago would be willing to pay him that. My answer to that is why wouldn't they?
Spotrac has the Bears with a shade over $55 million in cap space and the team ranks 12th in their financial power rankings. This is a measure of combining their estimated cap space with the number of signed starters they have and the percent of their cap allocated to starters to get their rank.
The Bears have a strong financial ground heading into 2016 and with two RBs on their rookie deals in Carey and Langford, the Bears could afford to fit in a $4 million a year deal for Forte should they wish.
Forte could be an important piece to have for two or three more years. He could help bring along the young backs, as well as spell them. Even if he wasn't the starter I see no reason to believe that he couldn't have a strong role on the team, especially on third down where his receiving and blocking skills could be used.
There is still a good chance that Forte is playing elsewhere next season, but I believe that the contract numbers won't be the reason. The Bears could afford him if they wanted to, but it's a matter of if that want is there. Maybe they think Langford and Carey will be all they need, but Forte is not easily replaceable.
Do you think the Bears should make an effort to bring back Forte?